Tonno di Coniglio

I first ate tonno di coniglio at Cascina Martini in Monferrato, Piedmont, a restaurant of the highest quality, and it is so typical of the cooking of the area. Tonno di coniglio is the inland version of tuna in oil, and it expresses the ingenuity of agricultural communities far from the sea. Fresh sea fish would once have been unobtainable here, and tinned tuna expensive. Rabbit, on the other hand, was relatively inexpensive and readily available. The rabbit is been poached until tender, taken off the bone, and then marinated in olive oil, a little garlic, parsley and thyme. The meat takes on that particular firm, flaky texture of tuna, and absorbs the herbs and garlic, too.

1 rabbit
20-30 sage leaves
20 cloves garlic, unpeeled
Salt and pepper
1 litre extra-virgin olive oil

Cut the rabbit up into pieces. Put in a pan and cover with salted water. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the meat is ready to fall off the bones – about 45 minutes. Drain the rabbit. Pull the flesh off the bones while it’s still warm.

Place a layer of the meat in an earthenware container, season, and cover with a layer of sage leaves and garlic cloves. Repeat, building up the dish in layers, until everything’s used up. You should have at least three layers of rabbit. Pour over oil to cover, then put in the fridge and leave for at least a night, preferably two or three.

At  Cascina Martini, the dish was served on a bed of rice, another local ingredient, but a salad of slightly bitter chicory leaves goes very well, too.

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